I made some major life changes around the time Conan O’Brien’s Harvard commencement address was popular on youtube. In his speech (Parts I and II), Conan says to fall down, make a mess and break something occasionally because it’s only when you’re not afraid of failure that you are truly free.
As a note of caution, let me say this: when you watch it, you will laugh and think he is very wise. You will nod along because you agree it is silly to be afraid of not being successful. More than anything, you will be mesmerized by his perfect hair undulating in the Boston breeze. And then, if you don’t give yourself a time-out, you will be inspired to do something rash. If you’re like me, you will give notice on your apartment and your job, get a dog, buy your old car back, and move to Alabama. (It would be awesome if you could do this in time for our Christmas party. Also, it would help if you play the tuba, own a plaid suit, and know a lot of carols.)
I don’t regret those decisions for a second, but I still struggle with Conan’s advice. It has a certain intuitive appeal. It would be a shame to look back on your life and realize you never did what you really wanted because you worried about being successful. In principle, I agree with him and with this guy:
On the other hand, being afraid of failure can be useful. For example, when my brother and I were kids, we smuggled our pet guinea pig onto a 6-hour flight to California. At no point did we consider failure scenarios. In fact, the only thing we were thinking was that it would be fun for Charlie to come with us on vacation.
MAJOR FAIL, friends. Charlie may have gone through the x-ray machine in a shoebox. And while he had an astonishing appetite for carrots and lettuce later that day, he expired a week later. The lesson I take from this is that being afraid of failure saves lives.
So I don’t know where this leaves me and Conan. I am pretty excited about my new life of falling down, making a mess, and breaking things, but then again, I bet Charlie was all “WOOHOO! FIELD TRIP!” on the way to the airport. I am going to think on this, and in the meantime I will share a no-fail recipe with you. It is always perfect, every time.
Chewy molasses cookies.
They make for delicious ice cream sandwiches, too.
The recipe was posted on Food.com by a lady named Shirl, who must be lovely, if these cookies are any indication. The recipe is here and reproduced as I would explain it below.
3/4 c. shortening
1 c. brown sugar (packed)
1/2 c. molasses
2 1/2 c. flour
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. allspice
white granulated sugar (for dusting)
Cream together the 3/4 c. shortening and the 1 c. packed brown sugar.
Mix in the 1 egg and the 1/2 c. molasses.
In a separate bowl, combine the 2 1/2 c. flour, the 1/2 tsp. salt, the 2 tsp. baking soda, and 1 tsp. of each of the four spices. Add to the shortening mixture until just combined.
Chill the dough 1-2 hours.
When the dough has firmed up, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Roll the dough into small balls about the diameter of a quarter (the size of a large marble).
Put some white granulated sugar (1/4 c. should do to start) in a bowl and roll each ball of dough in the sugar. Place cookies on a greased baking sheet at least 2 inches apart.
Bake at 350 for 7-9 minutes. Transfer cookies to a cool surface.